Jeff Minick is a joy to read and a blessing to learn from. So, I was surprised to see that he went a bit off his premise when he chose examples of male rites of passage [“Rediscovering a Lost Tradition: Male Rites of Passage,” published in the May 19 edition].
Jeff certainly is correct in pointing out that “throughout human history, young males underwent various tests marking their entry into manhood.” Then, the group welcomes the young man in his new status as a man/member of the group with a celebration.
Jeff’s example of the young man of Maasai of Kenya having to kill a lion with a spear (and, I might add, thereby showing his tracking prowess, his conquering of fear, and adjusting quickly if the lion doesn’t behave exactly as he expected) demonstrates a great deal about that warrior candidate. [The progression] from Medieval page to squire to knight shows, similarly, maturity over time and growth in skills. The message is that in these rites of passage, the candidate shows the group not only the skills he has acquired but also “what he is made of.”
But then Jeff chooses examples in modern society that stray significantly from the fundamental teaching he has just provided us.
Earning a driver’s license at age 16 shows an external skill at the most basic level and does not compare in any way to the rite of passage of the Maasai and the knight. Real driving skill comes afterward with some experience on roads of different kinds, varying traffic conditions, and the decisions he learns to make when he is alone without a driving instructor at his side. Until then, the young man has only a limited skill set and has yet to show “what he is made of.”
Being able to buy a beer at age 21 is no personal accomplishment for the group to celebrate. It merely marks reaching a point in time over which the young man had no control or influence. Voting at 18, likewise, creates no personal change in the young man. It just marks another moment in time over which the young man has no control or influence.
A party, a trip, a bonfire with friends—these are fun, but what rite of passage do these celebrate today? Where is the meaning in these celebrations?
The end of Jeff’s article sums up what a modern rite of passage really should celebrate: “If we train up our sons and grandsons to practice the virtues, to accept responsibility for their lives, and to work hard, we are giving them the compass and map that will help them find their way through a broken culture.”
With this, I heartily agree.